There are about 50,000 hunters in South Carolina who probably have March 20 marked on their calendars. That's the day state residents can begin hunting turkeys on private lands.
Turkey season on Wildlife Manage Area lands will open April 1.
South Carolina, like most southeastern states, has been experiencing a decline in wild turkey since a record harvest in 2002. Still, Charles Ruth, Turkey Project Supervisor for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, says our state still has a good turkey population.
"As far as this coming season, I expect it's going to be a good season. Maybe not great, and that's based on only fair reproduction the last couple of years. I suspect the season will be similar to last year in terms of harvest," Ruth said.
"There's a lot of local variation. Most folks are talking about fewer turkeys. On the other hand, there are folks saying 'we've got as many turkeys as we've ever had.' It depends on who you talk to and where they are."
Since 2002, the state's turkey harvest has been on a downward trend, down about 35 percent overall. The last couple of seasons, however, have seen a slight harvest increase. But that may be because much of the state experienced an increase in the number of days they were able to hunt turkeys.
Prior to the 2016 season, the South Carolina legislature enacted a season change that provided an increased number of days to hunt turkeys in 34 of the state's 46 counties. But that season framework will end after the 2019 season and the legislature will have to enact new regulations.
"When the legislature implemented the current season in 2016, as part of that legislation they included s sunset provision and a requirement for the Department of Natural Resources to study the season timing issue and report to them in November 2018. We did a huge four-year study looking at the timing of nesting and the time of gobbling," Ruth said.
A copy of that report, adopted by the Southeast Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, and two recommendations to the legislature can be found at the SCDNR website (dnr.sc.gov).
The "SCDNR Recommended Wild Turkey Season Structure" suggests season dates of April 10-May 15 (36 days) with a youth day on the Saturday prior to April 10. The bag limit would be 3 gobblers per season, no more than 2 per day (same as the current bag limit).
The rationale for this recommendation is stated: "April 10 start date is in keeping with the SEAFWA recommendation to begin the spring turkey season concurrent with average date of nest initiation (egg-laying) which reduces potential negative effects of early gobbler harvest on the reproductive success of hens. It also reduces the likelihood of inadvertent/illegal harvest of hens when hunters encounter and attempt to harvest gobblers because hens actively involved in the nesting process are less likely to associate with gobblers. Season length and bag limit are average among southeastern states."
SCDNR also offered a "Liberal Alternative Wild Turkey Season Structure" which would set a season of April 5-May 10 (36 days) with youth day the Saturday prior to April 5. The limit also would be 3 gobblers per season, no more than 2 per day and no more than 1 prior to April 10.
The rationale for this recommendation is stated: "Early season bag limit adjustment is an effort to mitigate April 5 start date which is prior to average date of nest initiation (egg-laying). This should partially mitigate potential negative effects of early gobbler harvest on the reproductive success of hens. The likelihood of inadvertent/illegal harvest of hens increases because fewer hens are involved in nesting activities and still associating with gobblers. Season length and bag limit are average among southeastern states."
Season: March 20-May 5 on private lands statewide; April 1-May 5 on WMA lands statewide.
Limit: 3 gobblers per season, no more than 2 per day.
Youth turkey hunt days: March 16-17 on private lands; March 30 for eligible WMA properties.
Note: All hunters, including hunters younger than 16 or those who are calling or guiding, must possess a valid set of turkey tags. All harvested turkeys must be tagged and validated as prescribed on the tag form before being moved from the point of kill. No person may possess more than one set of turkey tags (SC 50-11-544)